By Shimshonit • July 23, 2008
Avi posted a very interesting (and amusing) lecture by Professor Sarna a couple of months ago, and his name has appeared periodically in articles posted on this website. He is a member of my shul in Newton, Mass., and in a recent correspondence with him, I mentioned that his work had such wide appeal on this site that it had been difficult for other contributors to identify him with any specific movement. He replied, “As for not being identified with a particular movement, that is a compliment! Hope the same will be said when people read my [new book] due out next month.”
Professor Sarna’s new book is entitled A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew, published by Basic/Perseus, which should be out in time for the High Holy Days. The description on Amazon is as follows:
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the central question confronting Jewish leaders in America is simple: Why be Jewish?
Jonathan D. Sarna, acclaimed scholar of American Judaism, believes that “Why be Jewish?” is the wrong question. Judaism, he believes, is not so much a “why” as a way—a way of life, a way of marking time, a way of relating to the environment, to human beings, to family, and to God. Judaism is experienced through doing—doing things Jewish, doing things for fellow Jews in need, doing things as a Jew to improve the state of the world. The more Judaism one does, the more one comes to appreciate what Judaism is.
Using the Jewish calendar as his starting point, Sarna reflects on the major themes of Jewish life as expressed in a full year of holidays—from Passover in the spring to Purim eleven months later. Passover, for instance, yields a discussion of freedom; Shavuot, a discussion of Torah; Yom Kippur, the role of the individual within the Jewish community; Chanukah, issues of assimilation and anti-assimilation.
An essential brief introduction—or reintroduction—to the major practices of Jewish life as well as the many complexities of the American Jewish experience, this book will be essential reading for American Jews and the perfect gift for the holiday season.
Jonathan D. Sarna is Joseph H. and Belle R.. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, and chairs the Academic Board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Author of American Judaism: A History, he is also the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History and of the 350th commemoration of Jewish life in America, 1654–2004. He lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.
There are a number of books on the Jewish holidays, some with detailed description of the holidays’ origins, others with detailed instructions for observing them. What I think this book will lend to the subject that is new is a perspective on the role of holidays in Jewish life and identity, especially in contemporary American life.
About the Author
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5 Responses to “ Professor Jonathan Sarna’s New Book ”
- Jenny (d’varim) Jul 24th, 2008 at 4:59 am
- Thanks for the heads up, Shimshonit! A few years ago Sarna was the speaker at the HUC ordination in Cincinnati and he was fantastic. His new book sounds incredibly interesting and seems to be a good follow up to American Judaism.
- Avi aka TG Jul 24th, 2008 at 6:21 am
- Nice post Shim!!Judaism, he believes, is not so much a “why” as a way—a way of life, a way of marking time, a way of relating to the environment, to human beings, to family, and to God. Judaism is experienced through doing—doing things Jewish, doing things for fellow Jews in need, doing things as a Jew to improve the state of the world. The more Judaism one does, the more one comes to appreciate what Judaism is.I will definitely have pick this one up!
- Oh also here is a link to the post with the video that Shim mentioned at the top of her post.
- Couldn’t have said it better myself. Being Jewish is doing Jewish!
- I especially loved this snippet from his forthcoming book,
- Chavi Jul 24th, 2008 at 3:04 pm
- Ach, he could have been one of my professors had I chosen Brandeis!
- I like his take on his non-affiliation with any one movement, too
- Leora Aug 6th, 2008 at 12:43 am
- Shimshonit–you live in Newton? That’s where I grew up. I found this post because of your lovely write-up on Ilana-Davita’s post. Nice write-up about Jonathan Sarna. I am currently re-reading one of his father’s books (Nahum Sarna, z”l) on Psalms. I could say wonderful things about his mother, too. I hope she is doing OK.
- Shimshonit Aug 7th, 2008 at 1:24 am
- Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I’m sure Prof. Sarna’s new book will be a welcome addition to many a Judaica library.
- Leora, thanks for pointing out Prof. Sarna’s relationship to the late Nahum Sarna z”l. I haven’t read any of N. Sarna’s books, but the fact that you’re rereading one is a good recommendation! I’ve emailed you to carry on a little Jewish geography discussion. Thanks for visiting.
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